Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Musings on Luso-Afro-Brazilian Studies in English

PONTO DE VISTA. Nov. 2009. for AATSP Portuguese Newsletter

To compose a Point of View column one needs to determine a topic, a focus, a point of departure. Mine can be the Fall pressure to meet all the bureaucratic demands and to deal with all the pedagogical issues in advance of the upcoming Spring semester. I am scheduled to teach one class dubbed Música e Literatura, something that has occupied me for thirty-plus years, and another christened Inter-American Literature, which will be under a translation rubric and cross-listed with Latin American Studies. My burden in the present editorial assignment was explained simply: address one discipline-relevant subject either in the language of Camões or that of Shakespeare. As you can plainly see, the latter, in less than dramatic fashion, has prevailed. I attribute this outcome to several factors, including this year’s Presidential Topic at the MLA convention, Translation, and a locally pertinent fact: the cross-listing of the above-named course with a hemispheric focus. The understandable aim of this scheduling option is, as Caetano Veloso’s manager said of the artist’s Spanish-language album Fina Estampa, to increase market share. Yes, to expand the customer base, something that surely interests all of us at diverse institutions throughout the land, whether for the pure intellectual pleasure of sharing perspectives on our parts of the world or for utilitarian purposes, such as more favorable head counts to report to deans and other administrators. Here we are not able to share a class in the schedule with the English Department, but one can indeed do so with area-studies centers and other forward-thinking units, such as Women’s Studies and Gender Research. This active Center at UF has in recent years welcomed Lusophone letters in the guise of Modern Brazilian Literature, with a greater than fifty percent syllabus content of escritoras/gender-germane issues, as well as via a special topic named Empire to Integration: Cultural Dimensions of Portuguese Globalism, the result of a curriculum-development grant and sponsorship of the Center for European Studies, which was pleased that our distinguished guest speaker could also speak about Poland. In each case, the majority of students who signed up were already taking advanced Portuguese classes, so gains in customer base were relative. Those who enrolled from outside the program indeed made the experience more worthwhile, and some of the English speakers went on to enroll in a Portuguese-language sequence. Another custom-made class that merits mention in this regard was Jorge Amado and Bahian Imaginaries, undertaken to coincide with the receipt of a major gift to the university art museum and library, which now owns several signed and dedicated first editions, and some more volumes of translations to boot.
In all the cases cited, one depends on the availability of suitable Anglophone material in order to compose an appropriate reading list. For Jorge Amado of course, no problem, there is substantial US/UK criticism, and just about all the fiction has been rendered into modern English. One has to decide which stories and novels might be most engaging for today’s students (cf. links at http://plaza.ufl.edu/perrone). For Modern Brazilian Literature with a Women’s Studies focus, the work of Clarice Lispector alone would suffice, but since the 1990s all sorts of new titles have been appearing (Viva Host Publications!) and the necessity of choosing grows. With its poly-departmental allure Pagu’s Industrial Park (U of Nebraska P) has been one notable success. First World Third Class and Other Tales of the Global Mix by Regina Rheda (U of Texas P) has appeal in urban affairs, migration, transnationalism, and other current debates. Those of us who opt to include poetry, despite the well-known increased difficulties of translation, now also have some additional selections to make--Adélia Prado, Astrid Cabral, Renata Pallotini, highlights in the 2008 Tigertail South Florida Poetry Annual, among others. Cf. in this issue of the Portuguese Newsletter, information about the Primeiro Congresso de Escritoras Brasileiras em Nova York, October 2009, a resounding success overall and stimulating in terms of translation issues. As for Portuguese Globalism, to their credit the organizers of Expo ‘98 in Lisbon had much of their material published in English, perfect for a class with wide historical perspective. Thanks to Saramago for making his story of the unknown isle copyright free, and to his English translators. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis works rather well for its use of conjuncture and for the role of the giant Pessoa, who is abundantly translated and connected to international circuits. It all began with troubador lyric, and there are fine versions of Galician-Portuguese repertories too. In general, an energetic shout out to PLCS at U Mass Dartmouth for the remarkable series of volumes that provide such welcome critical readings for classes in translation.
Inter-American Literature, as pioneered by Earl Fitz, aims at the comparative study of common phenomena in diverse texts, preferably in the original English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese. In some cases, inevitably, translation must be the way to go, cf. E. Lowe and Fitz, Translation and the Rise of Inter-American Literature (U P of Florida). This approach is part of a critical-methodological paradigm, often with multidisciplinary implications, encompassing New World Studies (Roland Greene), hemispheric American (cultural) studies (Ralph Bauer, Justin Read, Monika Kaup), and transamerican poetics (Charles Bernstein et al.). Overall, these modes of critique most often concern fiction, and, depending on the critic, Brazilian Literature is fairly represented. John Barth vis-à-vis Machado de Assis is a lively example (the new Oxford editions should be a boost). Other topics that can be included, via translation, in an Inter-American class in a Brazilian Portuguese program include epic poetry (The Uruguay!), Modernisms (despite the astounding rendering of Ai! que preguiça in Macunaíma), Afro-descendant expressions, urban voices, Jewish perspectives, and even experimentalism (cf. the on-line version of Haroldo de Campos’ galáxias at the University of Alberta, and edited volumes on the poet-critic from the UK). My own Inter- offering, going back to the questions posed in the opening paragraph of this Ponto de Vista, will necessarily involve interrelations of music and literature—e.g. Dylan in USA, MPB in Brazil; blues/jazz in fiction, modinha/samba na ficção—but also substantial amounts of book poetry, some of which is translated in such sources as the new Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry and some of which was custom-rendered for inclusion (pardon the self-reference) in my just-launched Brazil, Lyric, and the Americas (U P of Florida), which ponders contemporary connections with canonical authors (Poe, Dickinson, Whitman, Neruda, Borges) and expressive media other than literature (film, comics, popular music, tourism). Inspiration for this curricular innovation (here) came in the form of a symposium organized by the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature at Brown University (May 2009, as announced in vol. 23. no 1 of this bulletin): Brazilian Literature in an Inter-American Context. Although the word translation did not figure in the title of any of the papers delivered, the significance and necessity of translation were explicit or implicit in the words of each presenter, and of a good number of the discussants. If the Fates look favorably upon us, such events will continue to be organized and to be successful in all parts of the country.
As for criticism, in addition to items and series cited above, it is satisfying to note the increase in university-press versions of essayists in literature and cultural critique (Candido, Schwarz, Santiago, Costa Lima), as well as class-friendly monographs and edited volumes in both conventional genres—fiction, poetry, drama—and such specialties as film, popular music, science fiction, detective narrative, the Brazilian Northeast, and chapbooks (por falar nisso, there is even a translation of cordel about Lampeão). For all of us, in different circumstances in distinct institutions, translation will always play significant roles, so the growth in good material, and opportunities to use it, can only be gratifying. The ultimate goal will remain to train others in Portuguese language and Luso-Afro-Brazilian cultural competence so that they can read and appreciate literature and other media in the original language of Camões, or Drummond, Lídia Jorge, Mia Couto. Linda tarde!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Latest Feline